Canada to Mexico 26 August – 17 September 2011
So that’s it. We did it. We cycled all the way from Canada to Mexico. We couldn’t have done it without lots of help and encouragement, so this post is to say “thanks” to all those people.
Thank you to our amazing Warm Showers’ hosts: Matthew (Vancouver), Aaron (Seattle), Roberto and Larry (Portland), Sophia and Bob (Sea Ranch), Heidi and Martin (San Francisco), Nick and Katie (Seaside), Joe and Carol (Buellton) and Ann and Brad (San Diego). If you’re ever passing through Bristol we’d love to host you!
Thanks to the people we’ve met along the way who gave us such insight into America, (and other places in the world). Bud the ‘union man’ in Longview, the young gay lovers who took our photo for us in the Japanese garden in Portland’s Washington Park, Judy the Portland hill-climber and then Lisa – just two of the many cyclist we met in Portland; Ruth and her husband on their vacation in Neskowin; Perry and Gary, the proprieters of the Ravenwood Hotel in Klamath, (most definitely our favourite hotel of the trip). Christie, who is cycling the length of California to mark her 30th birthday; Klaus and Barbara from Sweden travelling on their tandem who we met in Eureka; the un-named and heavily-laden cyclist who passed us several times on our trip; Sarah on her 3,000 mile School Food Cycling Tour; the lady – (whose name we didn’t get) – campaigning to save her local library in Manchester, California from closure. Pablo, Alex, Luciano and Mario – the four touring Mexican students we met at Heidi and Martin’s in San Francisco; Everett the hairdresser in the Castro. Roy and Melissa the former mortgage-lenders turned artists in Ventura. Eduardo and Roberto at E&R bikes in Los Angeles, who replaced Mike’s broken bottle cage free of charge,
Finally a big thank you to our blog readers, (whoever you are!). Being able to share our extraordinary trip with others has also meant we have created a wonderful record to remember it all ourselves. For those of you who sent us comments, thank you very much – we’ve liked reading them a lot.
So that really is it from me on this blog, … but we’re already thinking about other cycling trips we could take, so there may be more in not too distant future.
Happy pedalling everyone. Remember to keep the rubber down!
20 days cycling
4 non-cycling days
2 ferries – to and from Vashon Island
0 days rain
5 days with fog
2 bike services
2 cats (Brenda and Cecil)
4 dogs (Tender, Max, Maggie and Lucy)
1 rooster (and countless chickens)
5 visits to Safeway’s supermarkets, (2 to Fred Mayer, 1 each to Wal Mart, Harvest Market and Sprouts)
4 ice creams (3 for Matthew and 1 for Mike)
Countless cakes! (At least one a day each).
11 punctures – mostly on the van Nicolas – they stopped when we changed the tyre
13 nights in hotels
12 nights with 8 Warm Showers hosts
71 ‘on the road’ blog entries, (including this one)
185 highest number of blog hits in a single day
30 lowest number of blog hits in a single day
2 tired, but very happy, cyclists
Monday 19 September, San Diego
Posted by Matthew
Our final day of the trip, our flight back to England departs from San Diego at 20.05. Following a bit of tweaking of our packed bike bags, (just to make sure that nothing untoward might happen to them on the plane), we spent most of the day in downtown (centre) San Diego, around the old Gas Lamp Quarter.
Matthew wanted to mooch around the shops, (having purchased virtually nothing except food for over three weeks). Mike was keen to visit the retired US Navy aircraft carrier, Midway, which is now a floating museum and moored at a specially built pier on the San Diego waterfront.
We decided to split up for the morning and then meet up for lunch. Following a nice veggie lunch I persuaded, (a rather reluctant) Mike to take a bus to visit more shops at Fashion Valley – an outdoor mall, about half an hour’s bus ride north of San Diego, with the promise that we’d be back at Ann and Brad’s by 4.30.
I had been longing to visit one particular shop when we reached our final destination – Crate & Barrel. It’s a bit like Habitat, (now sadly almost all gone in the UK) – but with a very American feel to it. Think Ralph Lauren meets Oprah and Martha Stewart. Off we went on a bus. It was hot there and going in to the stores was a bit of a relief from the bright sunshine and heat! I only purchased a few things and so we weren’t there long. Apart from Crate & Barrel I gave my custom to one other store – those of you who know me well, will appreciate how restrained of me this is. I went to Old Navy – the low-cost member of the Gap family. Old Navy is only available in the USA. I acquired a lovely set of compression running clothing and what very good value it was too. I have said to Mike that I will give running a go when we get back to the UK and now I have the perfect outfit. Who knows, perhaps we’ll run on the USA west coast next time! We caught the tram (or trolley as they call them here), back from Fashion Valley to downtown – Mike enjoyed this a lot.
After picking up a thank-you bunch of flowers for Ann and one chocolate brownie for Brad (he’s rationing himself), we caught the bus back to their house. Ann and Brad both took us to the airport. This was immensely kind and helpful. Mike and the bagged bikes travelled in Brad’s pickup and me with Ann in her car. After bidding our farewells to Ann and Brad, Mike bid farewell to the bikes until we reached London.
Off we went for our final Starbucks’ of the holiday and then found a spot to sit close to a electricity socket, so we could charge our iPhones while catching up with the latest few Archers’ podcasts. The plane left thirty minutes later than scheduled and as we took off we were able to watch through the window as the lights of San Diego lit the city. A very poignant sight.
Ok, I win the prize for the most stupid competition – not realising that Mike had already blogged the answer, duh!
We’re comprising a list of our trip in numbers, so here are some of the things we’ve counted along the way. There’s a small prize to the person who gets closest to the numbers for each of theses.
Deadline – end of Tuesday.
Number of rainy days we had:
Number of dogs we met:
Number of cats we met:
Number of Safeway’s stores we visited:
Number of ice creams we ate, (between us):
San Diego, Sunday 18 September
Posted by Mike
It’s a beautiful warm and sunny day in San Diego. It seems strange to think that in just over 24 hours we’ll be back in the UK – and in the autumn!
Making the most of the summer sun while we can, we spent most of the day in Balboa Park, the largest art and culture park in the world. It was created as part of two international exhibitions in 1915-16 and 1935-36.
Today Balboa Park has beautiful gardens, fountains and amazing lath botanical house (to keep it cool – an extraordinary idea for northern Europeans!
Balboa Park has 25 museums and galleries, including the San Diego Air and Space Museum, (with the Apollo 9 command [landing] module and moon rocks), and the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, (Mike is more than a little excited with these last two venues!).
Among the buildings in Balboa Park is a collection of cottages known as the ‘Houses of Pacific Relations’. Each cottage attempts to represent the culture, (as decided by each cottages’ society) of a different nation – many of them European – including France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Eire, Scotland and, of course, England.
Each Sunday on a rotating basis, one of the cottage societies puts on a day of celebrations to represent their country. Today was the turn of the Austrian cottage. Austria, (through the interpretation of the USA) includes lots of people wearing national costumes: the men wore woollen knee-length ‘socks’, which had been adapted with a separate section for the calf. I assume this made them a little more comfortable in the sweltering San Diego heat. Food was, of course wurst and apple strudel (not eaten together). Entertainment first consisted of lots of men doing a sort of wood-chopping dance whilst yodelling and slapping their leather leiderhosen-clad buttocks; then a women singing, (if you could call it singing), an Austrian love song; then a couple, (further from Christopher Plumber and Julie Andrews you could not find), re-enacting the scene from the Sound of Music where Captain von Trap dances the ländler with Maria. Mike, who is not very keen on Austria (largely based on its role in both WW1 and WW2), muttered something about how he thought that the people staffing the Polish cottage were beginning to look a little nervous and strode off, (Hitler was Austrian).
We finished out tour of the House of Pacific Relations/Cottages by visiting the England cottage. My oh my, what a vision of England we found! Almost every wall of the cottage was decorated with royal family memorabilia! Flags of Will and Kate adorned the archway, while a spooky doll of Princess Diana (Princess Barbie-Di … Darbie?!), was encased in a glass dome, along with numerous magazines with pictures of Lady Di on the cover arranged around the doll in the dome. The few exhibits that didn’t involve the royal family included a cricket bat, a picture of a pearly king and queen, a picture of a penny-farthing made from a pre-decimal penny and half-penny. There were also, perhaps inevitably, tea and some cucumber sandwiches offer. We suggested that more up-to-date additions to the cottage could include a jar of Marmite! The (fairly young) guy staffing the cottage was married to a British women, which is why he was involved in helping out there. He was quite keen to try and update the exhibit as well, suggesting they should play God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. I think our suggestion of a jar of Marmite is more likely to be approved by the England Cottage Society – but only just, it might still be a bit too modern!
Mission accomplished, we’ve cycled from Vancouver to just over the Mexican border and then back to San Diego. Before we reveal the scores on the doors, would you like to guess the number of miles we cycled? The closest by end of play Tuesday 20 September will receive a small prize – but you’ve got to be in it to win it, so let’s have your guesses.
Summary – day 23 – Solana Beach to San Diego and into Mexico (Saturday 17 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 56 miles, actual: 54.17 miles
Avg. speed: 13.3 mph
Final distance: 1,664.44 miles
Our final day’s riding – it began with lots of mixed emotions: we definitely felt a real sense of achievement at having almost completed our journey, but this was rather overwhelmed by a sense of sadness that this particular adventure is almost over.
As we exited the front of our hotel, quite a sight greeted us and immediately lifted our spirits. Dozens of cyclists were out for their Saturday morning rides. There were hardly any people riding alone – lots of twos and threes – and more – and heading in both directions. It was like the San Diego cycling welcoming committee knew we were arriving and had turned out in force to help us celebrate the end of our journey!
We set off towards San Diego and quickly caught up with a group of eight cyclists. They were a section of the San Diego Bicycle Club, out on an introductory ride for new cyclists. Cycling is huge in San Diego apparently and we continued to be quite amazed at how many cyclists were out riding this morning. The group were really lovely, but making fairly slow progress, so We left the San Diego Bicycle Club group behind as we rode uphill and through the Torrey Pines State Park.
At a junction before Rose Canyon, we weren’t sure about which direction to take – ahead on the cycle path alongside the main road, or right on a longer, more picturesque route past the university, through the canyon and down to the bay. While we were stood at the intersection pondering our options, three men in Lycra wheeled up and waited at the lights – so we asked their advice, “Just follow us.” they said. They were friends out for a morning ride through the canyon and they reckoned this was the best way into the city. One was a psychologist, who worked in Solana Beach, another worked in IT and the third was a sales representative for a range of cycling clothing brands – mainly European clothing such as Nalini and Santini. They were all nicely kitted out at any rate. They also kept up quite a fast pace as we were riding. It was exciting to be pedalling hard and fast through wood-lined roads, past University of California San Diego buildings and along cycle-ways back through La Jolla to the sea. After a few miles, our ways parted – they were looping back north and they directed us to continue on south through Mission Bay Park.
There was no let up in the volume of cyclists as we rode around Mission Bay Park, on yet another nicely-marked route. The park curves around a broad expanse of water. The whole place was very well used – in addition to cyclists, there were in-line roller-skaters, water skiers and people riding on little jetskis. Groups of families and friends were setting up gazebos and readying themselves for picnics, children were running about and playing – it was all rather wondrous.
The route continued towards downtown and past an enormous Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command establishment and the airport. We’d already seen some aeroplanes taking off and coming in to land and Matthew had said: “Just think, we’ll be on one of those planes the day after tomorrow.” I don’t think that was calculated to cheer me up!
The Pacific Highway passed very close to the end of the runway and as we approached, we watched a plane make its descent and land – San Diego airport is notorious for having a short runway and for being so close to built-up parts of the city. Up close it was extraordinary how close to built-up areas and the road the aeroplanes are when they’re coming in. As the road drew closer to the end of the runway a plane passed low right above us on its way in to land. Huge! Loud!! Brilliant!!! I could have stood and watched several more, but watching planes wasn’t the purpose of the day and inexplicably, Matthew fails to be drawn to aeroplanes, (I do think that sometimes he’s not very adept at being a boy). I’ll get my chance to do some plane spotting when we’re at the airport on Monday I suppose.
We stopped at a junction just past the airport and I said “Hi, nice bike!” to a man riding a beautiful white Isaac carbon fibre bicycle (Isaac are based in the Netherlands), it had Campagnolo drivetrains and wheels. It turned out that he was called Isaac, too! He liked the idea that he and his bike shared a name. I liked that too. He’d just been to the gym and was finishing his exercises with a post-gym ride on a loop down towards the Mexican border.
Isaac turned out to be a real star! When we told him about our trip and that we were on our final leg, he very kindly offered to lead us to the border crossing point. He took us through downtown San Diego, via the bicycle lanes and cycle paths through San Diego bay past the Imperial Beach US naval helicopter facility and on to the border.
We chatted all the way and it was wonderful to get to know someone who knew so much about the area. Isaac was a single parent of a nine-year old boy, (Grandma was looking after him today). Isaac works as an ophthalmologist, but he’s hoping to retrain as an advice worker and counsellor. We were cycling past lots of big white salt-extracting ponds when Isaac pointed ahead: “That’s Mexico!”, he shouted. Over a barbed-wire fence we could see a massive Mexican flag on a pole rising high above the buildings, with mountains behind. We were almost there!
As we approached the border, Isaac’s rear wheel developed a slow puncture. His second in the short time we’d known him. He told us that he’d not had any punctured for ages, but now he’d had two in the last 45 minutes. We wondered if perhaps we’d jinxed him and we were a little guilty about leaving him to repair the puncture while we went on to the border crossing point and hopefully into Mexico.
There were hundreds of people milling about at the border crossing. Many of them were carrying big parcels and bags or wheeling cases. It was so exciting. We weren’t certain that we’d quite arrived, then Isaac said: “There is it, right there” and we went along a kind of open air covered corridor and towards a high metal railing with people streaming through wide metal turnstile barriers. We had to walk through the turnstiles and into Mexico by tipping our bicycles up onto their back wheels to manoeuvre them through the gates, but it was easy. And there we were … we were in Mexico. We’d done it … Canada to Mexico by bicycle.
On the other side of the turnstile there was a stone and bronze plaque marking the line of the border.
We took some pictures, but we didn’t really have much time to savour our experience or reflect upon what we’d just done. The border crossing into Mexico was teeming with people laden with stuff and our bicycles were causing something of an obstruction so we moved on into Tijuana. We also knew that entering the US from Mexico would be slightly more difficult and time-consuming than entering Mexico from the US. We took some more pictures inside the Mexican border and on spotting what seemed to be the biggest queue in the world, (and being English), thought we’d better join it. No queue to get in to Mexico, but a huge queue to get out and back into the USA!
The border on the Mexican side was frankly unpleasant. Tawdry stalls and unpleasant-smelling food carts. Lots of beggars, (including some children), most with physical impairments. Buskers singing Spanish songs and playing guitars. We spent one hour and ten minutes in the queue. A young man queuing beside us, who said that he lived in Mexico and works in a restaurant by San Diego airport, told us that he crosses the border most days and that today was a fast day!
Once at the head of the queue we were processed pretty quickly – passports scanned and bags passed through an x-ray machine then back in the USA. At passport control, I had hoped to get another stamp in my passport, but I didn’t. I risked asking for one, but I was told they were only given on first entry to the US.
We set a route to Ann and Brad’s on Garmin – just under 14 miles away and set off – heading north for only the second time in our trip, (Vancouver airport to our first Warm Showers host was travelling north). Ann arrived home just as we got there. Brad was away visiting their daughter in San Francisco. We talked and ate dinner then gave our bicycles a quick clean, dismantled them and put them in the bags that were waiting for us in Ann and Brad’s garage. We’ll be exploring San Diego on foot tomorrow, which will seem a little strange, I’m sure.
Summary – day 22 – Seal Beach to Solana Beach (Friday 16 September)
Posted by Mike
Estimate: 79 miles, actual: 81.19 miles
Avg. speed: 14.00 mph
Cumulative distance: 1,610.27 miles
Our penultimate day’s riding. I feel rather sad, really. It seems like such a long time and so many miles ago that we were newly arrived and so excited about exploring Vancouver. At the same time, it feels like the last three weeks have gone by very quickly.
As if reading my mood, our departure from Ayres’ Hotel was rather dull and grey this morning. Matthew wanted a picture of the ’12-lane highway’ that we cycled over last night. While he was taking the picture, I counted the lanes – and actually there were 14 + 2 hard shoulders! That’s the San Diego Freeway for you. Looking at the cars whizzing by on it last night in the dark reminded me of a scene in the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, (directed by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass). The film is a kind of mesmerising tone poem without any narrative, but full of arresting images of natural landscapes contrasted with cityscapes. I remember seeing it when it was released, I was living in Leeds and becoming more radical by the week at that time I think. Anyway, it’s a wonderful film – recommended.
We wound our way back to the coast and passed a huge Boeing space plant at Huntington Beach – exciting! It seems a little extraordinary to be beside a Boeing factory – I come from Newcastle in north-east England, we’re not supposed to be at the Boeing space plant just south of Los Angeles!
On the coast itself, a wide bicycle track took us south, along with dozens of other cyclists – most on Lycra, in groups doing their Friday morning exercises. It always inspires confidence to see lots of other riders out on the road. It obviously makes us all much more visible to motorists, so everyone just feels safer. Two young men rode alongside us for a while and complimented us on our jerseys – they said that we “looked cool” (*glow*), and wanted to know where our cycling kit came from. We told them about Rapha and they seemed quite excited about it being available in the USA – I thought that perhaps we should be on commission – or even sponsored, really. Although these two fellows might be a little less enthusiastic when they see how much Rapha gear costs!
The path by the beach was fantastic, it ran parallel with Pacific Coast Highway and went on for miles. In Huntington Beach there were some odd cyclists’ warning signs telling us to limit our cycling speed to 10 mph. First, that’s ridiculously slow and second, how are the vast majority of cyclists without speed gauges ever going to be able to know what speed they’re travelling at? We ignored the speed limit and hoped we wouldn’t be stopped – Garmin was showing that we were averaging over 14 mph … I was a little concerned that he might be taken and used in evidence against us.
On into Newport Beach and Laguna Beach – strange places really; beautifully manicured, (universally by Hispanic labourers by the looks of things), pretty and prosperous town centres, (where almost everyone was white) and every half a mile or so another gated community entrance, some with little sentry boxes guarding the entrances (staffed by you-know-who). It creeped me out a bit and we were glad to get past all that wealthy racist paranoia. Who are the people who live in these of places? What on earth are they afraid of or hiding from? I just don’t get it I’m afraid.
San Clemente seemed a little bit more down to earth and we were planning our lunch stop there as it was at about 40 miles in. Unfortunately, the way-marked, quiet cycling route completely bypassed the town centre where all the shops and cafés were. By the time we’d realised this, we were well through the town to the far side – we didn’t particularly want to double back and so we hoped for another opportunity to stop and refuel later on.
Old Highway 101 still exists in many places along this part of the coast, but almost all of the motorised traffic travels on the San Diego Freeway. This leaves cyclists and pedestrians with a very pleasant route. After a short while we came across another ghost bike (our third on this trip), in memorial to another fallen cyclist. In addition to the white bike, there were some cycling jerseys attached to the fence and scores of cyclists’ bidons (water bottles), suggesting this was a memorial to a racing cyclist. It was sad to see. The bidons hanging around the bike reminded us of the candles that people light in Catholic churches in front of statues of the saints.
Along the road we came to San Onofre State Beach Park, (a national park open to the public at the agreement of the US marines, as it occupies military land). The road followed a long narrow strip between the sea and the freeway. All the way along the park were picnic benches, fire pits, toilets and shower blocks. A lot of people were camped there, it looked like a popular surfers’ destination. The park eventually came to an end and the road stopped but became a paved cycle track where only cyclists could proceed through narrow pinch-points. Our route continued along a fantastic, (if slightly desolate) path that weaved alongside and under the freeway. After a few miles the cycle path ended abruptly … and near to a freeway entrance.
We were bracing ourselves for a hair-raising bit of riding along the freeway, when two local cyclists came past us. They told us that if we had ID with us we could take a safer, more pleasant route to Oceanside through Camp Pendleton, the base of the United States Marine Expeditionary Force. What’s a (gay) cycling man to do in such circumstance? Ride on the heavily trafficked freeway or avail himself of the opportunity to ride through a marine corp base and gawp at soldiers? We took the very sensible advice of the couple of cyclists of course and headed for the camp … and the marines!
We had to show our passports at the Camp Pendleton guardhouse and the soldier on duty seemed a little hesitant about letting us through … He left us for a few minutes to get some advice, then returned and allowed us to proceed – along with warnings about our not being allowed to cycle through the base after sunset. What a cheek! It was 4 o’clock and sundown is at about 7. Anyone would be more than capable of riding the six miles or so through the camp in three hours! Rather than make that point, we were very polite and English, thanked him and set off. That was a rather worrying moment though – the only other road was the Freeway and although it was possible to cycle on it at this point, it looked horrendous and we really didn’t fancy it. I would have liked to have taken some pictures of Camp Pendleton too, but I didn’t want to risk a gaol sentence this far into our journey!
On the other side of Camp Pendleton, we stopped in Oceanside (about 15 miles from Solana beach). We’d missed lunch, so were feeling very hungry by now. We had coffee and some cake (naturally) in a lovely old-fashioned 60s-era diner. Then the final fairly well-populated stretch along the coast, through Carlsbad (home to Legoland California – I wasn’t allowed to go), past lagoons, lovely beaches, people out running, (three men, wearing only short-shorts and running shoes were a highlight in Cardiff by the Sea!), and into Solana Beach and the Courtyard hotel.
The receptionist ‘upgraded’ us to a ‘club’ room, (this is how they deal with the fact that they’ve just given the room you’ve booked to someone else in America – they make a virtue about giving you something better for free, while omitting to mention that they don’t have what you want). Anyway, we’re not complaining – it’s huge – with a massive jacuzzi in the room. We worked out how to fill and turn on the jacuzzi, (more difficult than might be expected), dived in, splashed about, cleaned up and hot-footed it to California Pizza a couple of blocks away for a big feed – we were ravenous by now. We’d not really eaten properly all day because of missing lunch in San Clemente.
Dinner was very good. California Pizza is a bit like Pizza Express – nice ambience, helpful staff, (ours was a sweet and beardy-surfer type) and not really expensive (the pizza – not the waiter). So we lingered there for the evening before heading back to the Courtyard for another podcast episode of the Archers. Living the California Dream
Our final few hours in the saddle beckon, (well on this trip anyway). We intend to cycle about 25 miles from Solana Beach to our Warm Showers hosts in San Diego, where we’ll drop off our bags and then (with our travel documents) cycle the last 14 miles to the USA/Mexico border.
We hope that we’ll be able to go across, have our photo taken, then cycle back – just so we can complete our border-to-border trip. We’ve heard so many different and conflicting stories about the USA/Mexico border on our trip so we’re not sure what to expect – watch this space!